John Wesley Betelle was born, lived and died in Delaware. Spending most of his life as a clerk for the B&O Railroad in Wilmington, I suspect he traveled very little, if he left the state at all.
1921 was a big year for his son James. Between Guilbert’s death in 1916 and a stint in the US Army through 1918, his business had suffered greatly. But in 1919 he began cultivating work again, the biggest being a contract to design over 100 rural schoolhouses for Delaware. By 1920, he was designing schools in the New Jersey suburbs, including towns like South Orange, East Orange and Summit.
So it was that on March 23, 1921, James treated his father to a “pleasure cruise thru the West Indies, stopping at Cuba, Panama, Venezuela, Trinidad and Martinique” aboard the SS Megantic. It wasn’t James’ first ocean voyage—he had been to Europe a number of times already—but for the senior Betelle, it was likely a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, perhaps as a 75th birthday gift. With the architecture firm gaining success, Betelle could well afford it.
That I have this information is due to a number of recent releases of millions of ship manifests and passport records at Ancestry.com. It was in these records that I discovered not only this (and other) ocean voyages of Betelle, but also two new photographs. One is of the 42 year-old architect, and on his own passport form, that of his father, 75. Clearly the bald gene didn’t skip a generation in this family.
After a 4-6 week wait, I finally received a copy of James Betelle’s will from the New Jersey State Archives (along with some court documents, which I will discuss at a later date).
I had already seen a few pages from a 1930 version, acquired from the American Institute of Architect’s archives. Written when Betelle was still clearly successful, The ’30 draft earmarks donations to various institutions in his name, and directing his estate be left to his associates, Charles Bauer and Grant AC Behee.
James Betelle died in Florence, Italy on June 3rd, 1954. This I have known since my earliest research into the man, and indeed many obituaries, biographies and articles point this out. What I have noticed is that one reference is merely copying an earlier one; often turns of phrase in one article can clearly be traced to previous ones, with slightly modified wording or content. It’s a biographical game of Telephone.
With the facts surrounding his death vague and diluted over the years, it has been a goal to trace these tendrils of information back to the earliest sources possible. As fortune would have it, I am going to Florence on holiday next week.
All the Census data on JOB. There is exactly one Betelle listed in the USA. He has no memory of James. “Harry” is most likely James, as the birth year matches.
1880 census – Wilmington, New Castle Co, DE,
NA Film Number – T9-0119
p. 318 D
Name /Relationship /Marital Status /Gender /Race /Age /Birthplace /occupation /Fathers Birthplace
John W. BETELLE Self M Male W 33 DE Clerk In Freight Office DE DE
Annie BETELLE Wife M Fem W 29 DE Keeping House DE PA
Oscar BETELLE Son S Male W 8 DE At School DE DE
Harry BETELLE Son S Male W 1 DE DE DE
Emma BETELLE Sister S Fem W 19 DE DE DE